The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s199g07 Sunday 32 11/11/07
'nor are given in marriage' Luke 20.35
This is one passage of scripture where one treads warily! I reflect on what heaven might be like with considerable fear and trepidation. 'In that age' might refer to the general resurrection at the end of time, or it might be an age of our own time to which we aspire.
I would start by noting that the question of the Sadducees about the woman married to the seven brothers assumes a continuity between their time and the time to come. But as I commented on the text 'send Lazarus' for Sunday 26: 'Even in Hades, the rich man retains his sense of order and priorities. The role of the poor like Lazarus was to do the bidding of the rich, and the role of Abraham was to enforce this. He has no conception that everything has been turned upside down and inside out. He continues to live as if he is in charge when manifestly he has lost everything. One gets the feeling that after a lifetime of being the centre of attention this rich person has come to believe that God and other people are there for his personal benefit.'
Everything is turned upside down and inside out, the relationship of the rich over the poor and that women are merely one more possession of a man, somewhat less important than his house! (Exodus 20.17) After centuries of domination these Sadducees have come to believe that women have been put there for their own personal benefit.
I note that Luke remembers Jesus repeating the phrase: 'marry and are given in marriage'. Such repetition is hardly accidental. It is clearly the phrase Jesus used, appearing in both the parallel accounts in Matthew (22.30) and Mark (12.23), though it is characteristic of Luke and his stress on the ministry of women that it is here repeated. It means that both men and women inherit the kingdom, for women were traditionally the ones who were 'given in marriage'. They are included, not just as 'add-ons' to their husbands, but as equal inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.
It is clear that the woman in this story has no say in whose she might be! There is certainly no suggestion that she should be asked her preference after being married to them all and dying one wonders if it was of exhaustion :-)! But no she died childless. The ones who die of exhaustion are those who have baby after baby, being denied the use of any form of artificial contraception.
This woman died childless, then the most sure sign that she was not blessed the most bereft by God.
However we need to be careful when we say that: ' Everything is turned upside down and inside out' - for in fact there is much evidence in the Old Testament that in fact things were no different then. Jesus only proclaimed Old Testament truth.
The law that a brother married his widowed sister in law was indeed ancient. In Genesis 38 the patriarch Judah marries a Canaanite woman and she has two sons, Er and Onan. Er married Tamar, but died. Judah instructed his son Onan to take Er's wife and raise up children for her, but this he refused to do, spilling his semen on the ground. This has little if nothing to do with masturbation it is all about treating a female with complete disrespect and disregard. We are told: 'What he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death'. (Genesis 38.10) The first two sons of Judah die before their time through their wickedness. Indeed as the story goes on, it is Judah himself who provides sons for his daughter in law Tamar, and this, what we would call incest, is commended, not condemned.
Jesus himself appeals to ancient scripture to make the point that he is not proposing anything new, in the case about the dead being raised. God is God of the living. It is our perceptions that are skew-whiff, often our religious perceptions. Our religious perceptions that the poor are at the beck and call of the rich, that women can be treated with disrespect and disregard, that women are merely possessions of a man; either father or husband; that husbands rule over their households by divine right. Some of these still survive in 'christian' circles, of course.
It is here that we come back to our attitudes now. There is little or no point waiting for the general resurrection of the dead and the winding up of the world as we know it, for God to 'fix' everything. Surely we are meant to make this our own in the here and now. If it is our attitudes our religious attitudes that are skew whiff, then Jesus came and comes to correct them. In particular he comes so that others are included. Poor and rich, women and men, the elderly and children, straight and gay.
Christian hope is not that God will in time fix everything as if something is broken now. It is up to us to heal this broken world by our acceptance. God gives us the permission and the grace to do this, but until we do it, the world will go on as it ever has done.
As I reflect on the parallels between Er and Onan and the seven brothers in the question put by the Sadducees, or perhaps the contrasts, these seven brothers did what they understood God wanted. They didn't emulate Er and Onan in their wickedness, yet each and every one of them died, by implication prematurely. Here is another example of God not rewarding the righteous of God being unjust.
One of the difficulties of the faith of the ancient people of God was the terrible punishment meted out on the Egyptians for their refusal to let the people of Israel go and worship their God. It has been our conceit that God did this because the worship of the God of Israel was the correct worship, and by extension, the worship of the God of Christians is the correct worship. But I begin to wonder! For the Church has been as quick to try to stop people worshipping their God as did Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Within the Anglican Communion, the high church has proclaimed its rightness over and above the low church, and vise versa! Our aim has been to stop people going away and worshipping God in their way and join us in worshipping God in our way. We have emulated Pharaoh!
The true faith is frequently paralleled with marriage in both the Old and New Testaments with adultery being equated with apostasy. So the Sadducees question becomes: 'which six of these seven brothers, all of whom did the right thing, were actually worshipping the wrong god?' Since God had taken them all, they had somehow all displeased the Almighty.
Perhaps we can conclude that God was the God of them all, even though they each died prematurely. Perhaps God is the God of all, despite longevity or otherwise. Perhaps Jesus' words that in the age to come none will be given in marriage mean that all will be accepted as equal in the sight of God and none will have a special or closer relationship with God.
The true faith is something that includes all, that allows difference in ways of worship and even in the name of the Almighty. The true faith is not the one that has a special relationship with the Father, like marriage, with everyone else looking on. The true faith is one that includes all on an equal footing. If this is what the age to come is to be like, we might as well start acting the same in the here and now.
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